Called Symantec Antivirus for Palm OS, the software can be downloaded for free from Symantec's Web site.
The fact that the software is still in a preview (or beta) version means that Symantec won't provide any technical support for it yet. It released the product early to let users take an early look at the technology, and so it could solicit feedback on how well the software works. Symantec didn't say when the software will be available commercially.
Viruses on handheld computers and cell phones haven't been as widespread as they have been on desktop and notebook PCs. In fact, the first known Trojan horse affecting Palm computers -- dubbed Palm.Liberty.A -- emerged just last week. As wireless data services increase, however, some experts predict that the number of viruses aimed at handheld computers and cell phones will soar. In response, Symantec, along with rivals like Network Associates and F-Secure, have stepped up their efforts to develop antivirus products for wireless devices.
Symantec claims the software it released Thursday is the first antivirus product for Palm computers that scans for viruses locally on the device. Once installed, the software scans applications for viruses, worms or Trojan horses. If it detects a virus, it prompts the user to remove it.
Writing antivirus programs for handheld devices is tougher than writing for PCs because of the limited memory and processing power available on smaller devices. The scanning engine for Symantec's Palm software was rewritten from the ground up to work efficiently on portable devices, a Symantec official said.
"The challenge was taking the existing concepts of our engine technology and fitting it inside the device so it would be fast enough and require a small enough amount of memory to be functional," said Carey Nachenberg, chief researcher at the Symantec Antivirus Research Center.
The software works with all devices based on the Palm OS. Symantec is developing products for other platforms, such as Windows CE and Symbian's EPOC operating system, but it isn't ready to discuss those products yet, he said.
Network Associates' McAfee division launched a product last month called Virus Scan Wireless, which is installed on a PC and scans files for viruses when they are synchronised between the PC and a handheld device. The company is developing a product that runs locally on handheld devices, officials said at the time. F-Secure, meanwhile, has announced an antivirus product that scans for viruses on devices based on EPOC.
Having antivirus software that runs locally on the Palm device is important because users can download viruses from a wireless connection or through the infrared port on most Palm computers, and so they need protection with them at all times, Symantec officials said.